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Looking Back: Was 2017 a Year of Eroding Workers’ Rights?

2017 Employee Rights in Review

In recent years, there have been many victories for labor rights – some on a state level and others federal. But as we prepare to ring in 2018, many people are looking back and asking – “was 2017 a year of eroding workers’ rights?” Labor activists continue to rally for workers’ rights. But as the Trump administration got into full swing, it seemed like much of the progress was halted.

Not only was progress halted, but in many cases, what had been viewed as advances in labor rights has rolled back. Why? One reason is because the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is operated by an employer-friendly majority. Much of what the NLRB is now trying to do is to reverse many of the Obama-era rulings that protected workers. This “dismantling” of labor advancements includes the following:

Less Accountability for Corporations

Under the Obama administration, standards on joint employers changed. Corporations like McDonald’s would be held more accountable for unfair labor practices at those franchise locations.  McDonald’s operates thousands of franchise locations. For many years, McDonald’s (and other similarly situated corporations) avoided responsibility for labor violations under the idea that they were not the direct employer, and did not have actual control. The Obama administration sought to make it easier for corporations to be held accountable. Unfortunately, the changes made have since been overturned.

Reduced Worker Safety

Since the Trump administration took charge of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a number of worker safety regulations have been removed or overturned. Among those regulations are those related to exposure to:

  • Construction noise
  • Vehicles backing up in factories
  • Combustible dust

The 2018 federal budget also cut funding for OSHA’s Chemical Safety Board. What that means for workers is fewer inspections and less enforcement, which puts them at risk while on-the-job and hinders their ability to seek action when harm occurs.

Rolled Back Overtime Rule

In July 2017, the Labor Department rolled back an overtime rule established by the prior administration. The rule would have expanded the number of workers eligible for overtime pay by as many as 4.2 million. The Obama rule would have increased the threshold for overtime to almost double the current $23,660 per year.

Title VII and Ongoing LGBTQ Debate

Title VII and the ongoing fight for LGBTQ workers rights continue with the appellate level courts being split and the U.S. Supreme Court refusing to hear a case on the matter. In July 2017, the Department of Justice filed a brief arguing that protections against sex discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 do not include protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) continues to fight for LGBTQ rights.

Reduced Budget and Sexual Harassment

The President’s 2018 budget includes cuts to organizations like the EEOC, which could further strain an already extensive backlog of complaints. The EEOC had a backlog of 73,508 cases in 2017, with an average wait time of 295 days for claims. The EEOC states that it has received a doubling of visits to its website with questions about sexual harassment dominating claims and questions. With an already understaffed, underfunded, program, budgetary cutbacks could further threaten workers who are suffering discrimination or sexual harassment.

Reduced Protections for Quality Investment Advice

There are two primary standards that investors must follow – the fiduciary rule and the suitability rule. The fiduciary rule states that an investor must monitor an investment and ensure the overall financial picture of the client is in perspective. The suitability rule states that an investor must ensure that a client’s investment is suitable for his or her age, finances, and risk tolerance at the time of the investment. Set to roll out in January 2018 is a new rule that requires investors to act only in the best interests of their clients. The Labor Department, however, has requested implementation be delayed until July 2019 as the rule continues to be cut back, exposing clients to more risk while protecting investors.

Protecting Workers’ Rights

While there may not be anything you or I can do to directly impact these changes or the threatened climate for workers’, each of us can take steps to understand and protect our legal rights. As a worker, you have certain legal rights that must not be undermined. Contact Daic Law today to learn more about these rights and how to protect them, or to find out more about taking action against discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Call our office at (713) 808-5246, or send us an email at

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